WAILUKU - The Maui Hotel & Lodging Association's annual Kupuna Dinner has become such a holiday stalwart that it's the only event some seniors come out of their homes for, said association Executive Director Carol Reimann.
Many of the guests also have no family, said Reimann, which is another reason to honor Maui's kupuna with the feast.
She said she didn't have a figure on how much it cost to feed at least 500 at last week's event at the Velma McWayne Santos Wailuku Community Center, but she estimated that it was in the thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands. Just about everything was given away, though, including the smiles and hugs in return from thankful seniors.
Volunteers and employees from the Grand Wailea help deliver gift bags wrapped in cellophane to its share of 500 seniors served by 13 resorts during the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2011 Kupuna Dinner. Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. collaborated with community clubs to send out invitations and deliver residents, some of whom are otherwise shut-ins.
The Maui News / CHRIS HAMILTON photo
"Oh, it's fabulous," said resident Rosie Quenga. "I go every year. It's worth it."
It was a ringing endorsement, repeated often.
"I'm just so happy to be here," said dinner vet Lani Bancaco.
Some Key Participants
Some of the key participants for the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association's 2011 Kupuna Dinner were:
* Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, with Chef Tylun Pang.
* Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, with Banquet Sous Chef Michael Cantin.
* Grand Wailea, with Executive Chef Eric Faivre.
* Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, with Chef Matthew Smith.
* Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, with Chef Thomas Muromoto.
* Marriott's Maui Ocean Club, with Chef Petr Slaventinsky.
* Makena Beach & Golf Resort, with Chef Mark McDonald.
* Napili Kai Beach Resort, with Chef Craig Erickson.
* Royal Lahaina Resort, with Chef Bernardo Salazar.
* Sheraton Maui Resort, with Chef Bryan Ashlock, who also provided two ice sculptures.
* The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas, with Chef Francois Milliet.
* Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, with Chef Manfred Jonas.
* The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, with Chef Garrett Fujieda.
More than a dozen hotel and resorts go above and beyond to bring the seniors the very best, even if it means deviating from the official menu of ham to serve lobster and ribs.
"It's gourmet," said Deacon Albert Phillips of St. Joseph Church. "This is fantastic. It's beautiful. No, this is awesome."
The nonprofit arm of the hotel association has more than 100 other event donors, who provided everything from music to 250 door prizes, which the seniors get in addition to gift bags from the hotels.
Some also walked out with elaborate centerpieces made exclusively for the event. One lucky senior took home a a flat-screen television, and several received $100 gift cards.
They lined up outside almost an hour before the doors opened, and almost no one left until the final names were called out. The seniors were even warned to walk in and out calmly, since there's a tendency to rush for favorite spreads at the beginning and leave all at once.
Seniors in some ways are the same everywhere, some volunteers politely joked. These were many of the servers who got tears in their eyes when seeing friends, or "regulars," once again.
"The outpouring of support from the MHLA membership and the community for the Kupuna Dinner is absolutely incredible," Reimann said. "All the kupuna walk away with many mementos. We are so touched to see the spirit of giving during the holidays as we pay tribute."
The event has been in existence since the late 1980s, when it was held at a West Maui resort, but as it grew it had to be moved to Central Maui for the larger space and easier access, said former organizer Terryl Vencl, now executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau.
Council Member Bob Carroll, who holds the Hana residency seat, sat among members of his community. It was the first time Hana folks had been able to make the trip in some years, thanks to transportation provided by Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.
He also mentioned that the hall already had reached its capacity, and "I think we're gonna need a bigger place" as the baby boomers age.
"Some people complain about the money the county gives the visitors bureau, but they give back 10 times what we give them," said Council Member Mike Victorino.
The council gave the bureau $3.35 million this year. The Maui Hotel & Lodging Association is a separate entity, although it and the bureau often work together.
Fifteen MEO buses brought the participants to the event by collaborating with the island's many senior clubs to extend invitations, said Agnes Groff of MEO.
In addition to myriad hotel servers, cooks and chefs, students also volunteered from the University of Hawaii Maui College and Maui High School's Academy of Hospitality & Tourism. The event gave the students an opportunity to work with some of the best in the hospitality industry.
"They put their hearts out for you and have received yours in return," Randy Piltz, Mayor Alan Arakawa's executive assistant told the audience.
"What a heck of a contribution to the community," he added.
It is "the event," to attend, Carroll said.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.